Often referred to simply as the Foreign Office, but officially called Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), has been on my long list of places to visit in London but the building is only open to the public once a year for a day or two. Last year they only opened for one day, and it fell on the Lord’s Day which I obviously missed. This year however, it was for a couple of days, Saturday and Sunday, and I finally got to visit and really enjoyed it. This building was mentioned in a book I’ve read about the famous Victorian artists, and George Gilbert Scott, the architect who designed one of my favourite buildings in London, St Pancras Hotelwas also responsible for the overall classical design of this building.


 The main entrance is in King Charles Street facing the Treasury Building where the Churchill War Room is located (it’s a bunker that Winston Churchill and his government took shelter and held 115 Cabinet Meetings throughout the Second World War). 


Britain didn’t have a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs until 1782. The first Foreign Secretary, Charles James Fox, was appointed in 1782 but the building where the current Foreign Office stands was not constructed until 1861. It was completed in 1868 as part of the new block of government offices which included the India Office and later the Colonial and Home Offices.  In collaboration with Matthew Digby Wyatt, the India Office’s Surveyor, who designed and constructed the interior of the India Office, George Gilbert Scott was responsible for the overall classical design of the building.



The FCO staff who welcomed us at the courtyard before the tour started mentioned from the beginning that, “This was built at the peak of the British Empire’s domination around the world and Scott designed this building as a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors.”  Apparently the original design included fountains in the Durbar Court but proved impossible to install, so Wyatt settled instead for patterned marble imported from 3 European countries – Greece, Italy and Belgium, suggesting flowing water.


Around the 3rd storey of the Durbar court are artistic busts of great men from British India.



The three-storey high Grand Staircase is one of the most recognisable, and I’d say, the most spectacular area of the whole building. This is where the foreign dignitaries are seen on tv or newspaper being welcomed by the Foreign Secretary before they are brought to one of the rooms. The dome above is decorated by female figures representing countries which had diplomatic relations with Britain when it was constructed in the 1860s. The dome and the stencilled walls and ceilings were the work of Clayton and Bell, one of the most prolific English workshops of stained glass during the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century.


The murals on the first floor depict the origin, education, development, expansion and triumph of the British Empire.


THE GRAND RECEPTION ROOMS — Lucarno Suite, Dining Room and Conference Room

It was designed by Scott with so much grandeur to showcase the wealth and influence of the British empire.  It has elaborate and lavish use of gold, red and blue from floor to ceiling.


The rooms are used for diplomatic dinners, conferences and receptions.



Designed by Wyatt, the staircase leads up to the office of the Secretary of India but was taken over by the Crown later on. There’s two portraits of Napoleon III and his wife Eugenie at the top of the stairs. Eugenie became a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria and when the couple were dethroned  they moved to England and settled in Kent. The portraits were donated to the Foreign Office by the Bonapartes to express their gratitude to the British Government for their help in the Paris Exhibition of 1867.


The octagonal glass ceiling has beautiful stone carvings of so-called ‘Goddesses of Plenty’ surrounded by cherubs. There’s plenty of natural light here and it’s an even more attractive ceiling than the Grand Staircase.


The building is full of ornate mouldings, fireplaces, beautiful wood/stone carvings, and many other unique features.


Due to years of neglect, the building fell into ruins although it was continually used as offices. In the 1960s, when the socialist/leftist government took over and the abhorrence of anything ‘Victorian’ was very popular, there was a proposal to demolish the building but there was a public outcry so the plans have been shelved. The government ordered for the whole building to be fixed and refurbished which took decades to accomplish but it turned out, according to the tour guide, that it saved the government so much money than they’d have spent for demolition. While listening to her, it made me realise that some people in the British government didn’t care much about their heritage. And it makes me feel sad that just like the previous generation, young Brits today do not know, much less care about their history. The prevailing culture is seemingly hostile to the old British values; the Judeo-Christian ethos that this country used to have is completely lost. I thought to myself, ‘I’m so glad the government leaders who proposed the demolition of this building didn’t win. Or else, it would have been a great loss to the nation.’ As a history buff, I was very much in awe seeing the handiwork of the Victorians. If I was that impressed today, I can only imagine that everyone who walked into this building back in the Victorian-Edwardian era would have left the premises with so much reverence and admiration for the British Empire. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this historic building.


At the end of the tour we were introduced to Palmerston — the resident cat who’s tasked to wage war on mice and eradicate the rodents in the building. He was sleeping safe and sound probably exhausted from chasing a massive mice while everyone was trying to take a photo of him.


I went to the Farmers’ Market early this morning and forgot to put on my hat and gloves. It was so cold that I felt like my fingers were falling off haha! When I checked the temperature, it was 2 degrees — already too cold for me!  I just wanted to crawl back in bed and get cozy.  I’m dreading the onset of the winter months. I am not looking forward to another five-six months of wearing layers of clothes, heavy coats, boots, gloves and hats. 

You’d think I’m already used to this kind of weather because London has been my home for almost 18 years now.  Nope! I am a tropical girl and do not enjoy wearing winter outfits.  Having said that, I am so blessed to call London my home. God has been so good in allowing me to live in one of the most prestigious cities in the world.  It is a beautiful place full of fascinating history whichever way you turn.  I’ve been able to see London from the beautiful spring and summer months through to harsh and long autumn and winter season for the last 17 years, and it has enabled me to gain a lot of perspectives on things.

From a weather perspective, it is not like Greece, or any of the Mediterranean city that is beautiful throughout the year.  While some people like the freezing cold weather, and the rain (not me though), it can get especially cold, grey, wet and very windy, and sometimes snowy during the winter months. So visitors have to come at the right time in order for them to really enjoy the city.  Whenever I am asked by family and friends when is the best time to visit, my response is always, “Visit in the summer months, July or August, or early autumn, September or October.”

I found this 3 minute video of London on a bright and sunny day.  It is captivating and worth watching.


This is a great coffee table book — really fun and interesting read! It’s a birthday present from a good friend of mine, and although I’ve briefly looked at the photos when I first got it months ago, it’s been sitting on my book shelf and haven’t read it until yesterday.


It was written by the Queen’s dresser, Angela Kelly, who gives the reader a fascinating insights into the detailed work that goes into designing, sewing, cataloguing, and caring for all the outfits and accessories worn by Queen Elizabeth.


There’s plenty of photographs of Her Majesty’s impressive collection of accessories such as brooches, hats, bags, shoes, gloves, silk scarves, etc. (not to mention a huge collections of ‘see-through’ plastic umbrellas in every colour imaginable!)  There’s also photos of different ensemble she wore to important events, including the jubilee celebrations — Thames river pageant, concert, the Olympics opening ceremony film and appearance. The outfits she wore are discussed in detail with original sketches, photos of the fabrics, etc. Ms Kelly shares the story in detail how she directly worked with Danny Boyle’s team to create the perfect outfit for the complicated Olympics opening ceremony. Two outfits were made for Her Maj and the stuntman who amazed the world when he parachuted into the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony dressed as the Queen.

Gary Connery, the skydiving "Queen" prepares for his dramatic arrival at the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday night pictured in the helicopter en route to the stadium. Collect Picture by Connery/Waldegrave See story Padraic Flanagan

For jewel lovers, the book offers quite a unique behind-the-scenes look at the jewellery that are worn regularly by the Queen — the diamonds give us information about their provenance and how they’re actually used today.  There are photos of the Queen’s precious jewels — rubies, aquamarines, pearls, sapphires and diamond tiaras and their matching necklaces.


We also get to see the way that these precious jewels are presented to HM — on a tray with a lace that once belonged to her grandmother, Queen Mary, hand-sewn by the late Queen with her initial ‘M’. The Queen then can choose from the tray the specific pieces she wants to wear. This is my absolute favourite section of the entire book! It was lovely to see the way those jewels are put to use and not just sitting in the royal vaults.


Although the complicated issues with the Queen’s jewels are left to the crown jeweller, Ms Kelly is also responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of HM’s jewellery collections such as basic cleaning before and after they are worn by Her Maj. A series of photographs show how Ms Kelly works with the Vladimir tiara (photos above) — she’s swapping out the tiara’s pearls for the set of emeralds, and the images show how the individual pearls and emeralds are stored — every piece is numbered and put in pouches before they are returned to the vaults for safekeeping.


Two fascinating thing I learned is that the Queen’s dresser pick very striking colours to make sure she stands out, and that the seamstress always place discreet weights in the hemlines of the Queen’s outfits to avoid any possible royal embarrassment (think of The Duchess of Cambridge’s dress being lifted up by a sudden gust of wind — photos below from The Mirror newspaper).


Interestingly, the Philippines was mentioned in the book (please see first photo above) because the Queen’s hats are made of ‘Sinamay’ straw(banana leaves fiber).


This is a nice addition to my royal biography collection (although it’s not a biography). I am just fascinated with royal jewels after I’ve watched a documentary about the history of the tiaras and precious jewels of the European royal houses. This book provides a unique perspective on the everyday use of The Queen’s jewelries, and it will be one of the books on top of my coffee table someday, when I finally have a nice coffee table to put it on! 


When I was growing up, the period from October 31 to November 2 was a big holiday in the Philippines. It is not a huge festivity like Christmas but people would normally take a few days off work, travel back home to be with their families to honour their loved ones, both the dead and the living. Filipinos are very superstitious and religious people you see . . . even those who claim to be nominal Catholics do pray for, and to, the dead (the image of President Duterte crying in his mother’s grave uttering ‘Tabangi ko, Ma!’’ — please help me, Mother! — is a classic example of this). Back in my day, and I’m referring to 30-40 years back when I was very young, everyone did lit candles in the cemetery to commemorate All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and All Souls’ Day (November 2nd). In our family we always had a novena (a form of worship consisting of special prayers on nine successive days) at home every night during these festivities aside from offering a mass (that is, paying money to the priest to hold a special service) for the dead family members. A lot of Filipinos still do practice this tradition to this very day. Personally though, All Saints’ Day took on a completely different meaning when my father died on November 1, 1984, exactly thirty three years ago today. Three days ago my older brother turned 50 and as I was on Skype chatting with everyone, the family gathered to celebrate his birthday, I was reminded once again that my father died at age 51 — really young. 

So this is the time of year when my own particular brand of seasonal affective disorder sets in. And no, I’m not talking about a depression that goes on for months, or until the dead of winter is over. Rather it’s intentional, I purposely spend some time being sentimental, reflecting or dwelling in the past, and sometimes I seem to get stuck there, at least for a week or two. I don’t get weepy, or spend time crying for hours on end, or have no appetite and don’t wanna go out or see anyone. None of that. I just tend to be more quiet and solitary. I naturally keep things to myself and not bother to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with anyone, not even with my husband. I deal with it on my own. That’s just the way I am. I know how to live inside some of my sorrow, the grief that never really goes away.

Around this time of the year since my father’s death, I become quite nostalgic for the way things were, in what seems like only yesterday, but in fact they’re long ago and far away moments. I’m no longer a little girl, anticipating Christmas or any of the holidays. We all grow up, we get older, and yes, we lose people we love. Our siblings, or those we’re close to do get married and move away, and start spending their holidays in other family circles. In my case, I am the one who moved farther away, thousands of miles from my family and friends. In the same way that once we settle in one place, we make friends and then some of them move to other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, or become estranged. And as we get older, our beloved elders pass on and the list of people we miss gets longer.

Just about everyday last week I listened to my parents’ favourite music, and I haven’t listened to any of it for many months. But the other night I played one of my mother’s favourite songs ‘The Autumn Leaves’ over and over — probably a hundred times that day (FYI, Eva Cassidy’s rendition is my number one favourite). For some reasons, I have vivid memories, as a 3-4 year old girl, watching my mother playing the guitar while singing The Autumn Leaves and I tried to replay that particular moment in my mind as I was listening to the song while doing calligraphy and watercolour painting — which, by the way, I find very therapeutic.

A good part of the weekend and yesterday, and yes, a fair portion of today, particularly this morning, were laced with these melancholic moments, and broody concern for the past. Each time I was ready to caw under the weight of my own deep oblivion, strong arms wrapped themselves around me and Jared would simply say, “I’m here, my dear!”  That was all I needed in order to remember that indeed, I have a lot for which to be truly thankful. It seemed time, today, to come full circle, and invoke the spirit of my father and mother, thirty four and eight years gone respectively (November 1,1984 and November 15, 2009), by going through old photographs, videos, listening to their music — simply reminiscing the days gone by.

Christmas is just around the corner; strong arms are wrapped around me as we make plans for the holiday traditions we’ve begun to evolve over the past seventeen years. Making plans always cheers me up. And really, how sad can I be when there’s so much to be joyful and thankful for? Besides, I’m drinking English tea right now, and a cup of tea makes everything better! 

I’d better stop right here before I get maudlin again.

Last week I noticed these tiny flowers in one of my walks at the park, and I have no idea what they’re called, but they smell so good that it actually reminded me of my maternal grandmother. When she steps out of the bath, she always smelled just like those tiny flowers. After my morning run today I picked some of those flowers again, and yes, more autumn leaves, and I kept smelling the flowers on my way back home. That, my dear family and friends — picking flowers and smelling them — is my own particular brand of seasonal affective disorder.